Libraries, Management

Three Things You May Not Know About Your Manager/Library Director

It is so bizarre for me to vocalize this, but coming up in June I will have been a library director for 3 years. When I accepted this job, I knew that I was up for challenge and I was pretty sure I could do it. Three years into it I can say that I’ve enjoyed parts of it, loathed some of it, and have realized that I’m still not 100% sure that I can do it. One of the other things that I’ve learned along the way is what it feels like to be a manger/library director. I’ve worked for two really great directors in the past and one not so great and for each of them I always wondered what was going on in their head. Their ideas and decisions always made me so curious. Why did this make this decision? Why did they side with this person and not that person? Where do they think the library is headed? I always tried to understand things but in the moments I didn’t have a full picture so there’s no way I could understand it at all.

But now that I’ve been a director myself I can understand the fuller picture of being a manager/library director. I know that there’s a lot going on and that there are many complex thoughts, ideas, and emotions behind everything. While these three things I’ve learned may not apply to every manager/library director in the world, I’d like to think that they do apply to most of them out there.

No Matter What You Think, I Can Confirm That Your Library Director/Manager Has A Soul

Your manager/library director told you “no” or didn’t side with your input in a situation. This has all happened to us. In my opinion, the best directors always say yes or let you run with your wildest idea, but in some cases they say no. Hearing no or not having your input considered is tough. I’ve been through it many times and each time afterwards I have always had a day or two where I was down in the dumps, thinking that my manager/library director would always be against me or was simply out to destroy everything that I came up with. Boy was I wrong.

From my experience, I believe that no matter what the situation is that every library director out there is trying to think of the best possible solution for every issue that arises. While you may not agree with the end result, I can tell you that your preferred outcome was at least considered. A good manager and library director considers all sides of the story. For the things I’ve done and changed around at the Benson Memorial Library it has always been me pondering every possible side of the story for a few weeks and then once I’ve done that coming to a conclusion that best fits the needs of the library (we’ll get to the library and its needs soon enough). I’m not out to get anyone, I’m not out to give anyone a bad day, and you should know that I’m always thinking of the best possible way forward for everyone.

Your Library Director/Manager Is Thinking Of You

The best library directors and managers are always thinking of their employees. Y’all may not agree on every step of the way, but through the ups and downs I can confirm that they are thinking of you. They’re thinking about where you’re at and where you’re going. You may feel like you and your manager/library director don’t have a connection, but you do. A good library director has a connection with every single one of their employees. It may be small, sometimes almost non-existent, or it may be a bigger connection, but in all cases there should be some kind of connection. No library director or manager wants to make an individuals life miserable or tough. I believe that at our core all of us human beings are looking out for each other, and managers and library directors are the same.

Your Library Director Has To Look Out For The Library First

This is the one big one that I have learned. I believe it was Corinne Hill who told me that her first responsibility as a Director was that she had to look out for the present and future of the library as a whole at all times. Up until that point, I didn’t realize that “the library” was another employee that the library director/manager had to look out for. The library wasn’t just a ethereal thing to the library director…it was a living breathing organism who needed the utmost care and attention. Its existence was greatly depended upon not only by the people it employed, but the entire community.

With that in mind, I’ve come to understand that my first big job as a library director is to look out for the library as a whole. I need to maintain that heating system. I need to update our windows. I need to make sure we have a well rounded collection covers all of the different kind of information that our community needs. I need to make sure that the staff are trained and are doing their work. I need to make sure I lead in a positive and community first way. All of these things, when lumped and smooshed together, are best summed up in the phrase the library director needs to look out for the library as a whole first and foremost. When the manager/library director looks out for the whole of the library, everything that I mentioned above and much, much more can hum along nicely.

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Abigail Foster's Photosynthesis Machine, Benson Memorial Library, Family, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

Where Are We Now?

About a year ago I hung up a bizarre painting in my office at work. To me it was perfect and just familiar enough that I thought it warranted a place in my life. As a person who always thought it would be neat to have an office and fill it with interesting things, the painting, when mixed with the Lego creations and drawings that Finn and Aero have created for me over the years, helped me establish this place my home away from home. When I feel comfortable at work, I usually am able to some really good and meaningful work. On the other hand I could also see how the average “I shop for my groceries at Walmart every Saturday at 1pm and have to watch the game and/or my sitcom at the same time every week” American person would be appalled by it.

One day I came into work to find that my painting was taken down. My coworkers took it down because, yes they were terrified and appalled by it. I guess right now would also be a good time to explain that due to limited space we’re all basically working on top of each other and that we’re surrounded by glass. It’s like a packed fishbowl in here. But to fully admit my feelings, I was pretty let down by their actions. It felt passive aggressive and overall it felt unkind. But in the moment I didn’t react. I just went on and say “oh, well that happened.”

You see as a Gemini I feel a duality to everything. There’s this part of me that always sees things from my point of view and then I almost immediately put that aside and see it from how others may have seen it. In this case: Justin likes the painting and hangs up the painting, Justin feels disappointed when someone takes that painting down, but then Justin instantly forgets about that and says “well I bet they didn’t like the painting so I understand that and what I thought about the painting shouldn’t matter because that’s selfish to only think about myself.” Over time, I’ve taken that approach to even more of an extreme: I guess in a way that by my coworkers actions I was able to put the painting to a much better use. It became the cover for my album Prozac Is The Dam And I Am The Dynamite, and I think it fit really well for that album. Having the painting taken down by my coworkers made me take it home, where I stared at it more and through those hours of staring it gave the painting more meaning and purpose. It became a visual representation of my life at the time, and when it merged together with the music I was creating it became a complete package.

You take all of these things together, stretch everything out by a few months, sometimes years, and what happens? You start to think about the first part (yourself) less and less until it almost becomes silly to even think about it in the first place. I think that’s where I am at now…after awhile of doing this here I am, a person that may be very capable about thinking of others but at the same time a person who doesn’t think of himself as much as he should. I’m overwhelmed right now and a bell goes off in my brain to remind me that this may be part of the reason as to why I feel this way. When you neglect yourself in some way, it all adds up. I stare at a lot of spreadsheets these days, and I like to think that my soul has a spreadsheet where it has been keeping note of the times I’ve put myself aside for others. It’s finally getting to that point where the spreadsheet is just too long and unruly and it becomes a hassle to scroll down the page because there’s so much data.

I’m on the cusp of something here. It feels exciting and at the same time it fills my soul with great fear, but I know that as with everything in this life it will come, it will go, and the next thing will happen. I feel lucky to be able to share this journey here and to have others be able to maybe understand and maybe feel like they may be in the same holding pattern at the moment.

Music: David Bowie “Where Are We Now?” As long as there’s sun..As long as there’s rain..As long as there’s fire..As long as there’s me..As long as there’s you

Idea Share, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management

Management Style (Version 2.0)

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Me in my natural library habitat these days. The standing desk is working out well. I feel better about life and my health because of it. I want to have plants all around me and in time this will happen. I want my work home to be like my own little personal room, surrounded by the things that inspire me. They help me to be a better leader.

The last time I did this post was in 2014, and my oh my things have changed. I’ve learned so much, I’ve been through so much, and it feels like the time to write more about management style. Here goes!

I opened up my post in 2014 with the following words:

Did you die?
Did anyone else die?
Did you burn down the building?
Did anyone lose an appendage?

If you answered “no” to all of those questions, you are doing a great job of being a librarian in a public library. -Justin Hoenke’s Management Mantra, 2014.

In many ways, my mantra has not changed. I didn’t fully understand what I meant by these words back in 2014, but in time I’ve grown to understand what I was saying. What I’m saying here is that I think librarians should be approaching their work with the least bit of stress and anxiety that they can bring to the table. Stress and anxiety, or so I have learned over the last few years of my life, are very detrimental to the overall health of a human being. There are many articles out there that talk about this, but this one is very helpful and direct. When we’re stressed and anxious, we’re almost a completely different person. Over longer periods of time where we are stressed or anxious we can begin to see changes happening. I noticed it within myself: I was weaker, my body ached, and headaches happened way too often. There were some other things that contributed to all of this, but there was also stress and anxiety. While I haven’t cut those things out completely, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my stress and anxiety levels and to back down when I need to breathe.

I think this is what I was trying to get at in 2014. The best library managers and leaders are not the ones that push you to work constantly or to always be thinking of the latest and greatest things. The best ones are the people that remind you to breathe and to take care of yourself. Need to use a sick day as a mental health day? Sure, you deserve this. Feeling overwhelmed by the project you’re in the middle of? OK, set it aside for some time and eventually get back to it. These are behaviors that good managers and leaders will model themselves and then through their actions other staff will pick up on it.

And now will all of that said, let’s dive into the same format we followed back in 2014:

What does a manager/leader do?
As you can see, I’ve expanded this question to include “leader”. I like to use manager/leader in a very similar way. They manage a workflow, they inspire coworkers to try new things, and they’re the guide for keeping the library moving ahead. So what do they do? Everything I just said above. A manager/leader should have a vision as to where things are going and also at the same time be rooted in the present. A manager/leader will understand that the team they have is what they’re working with in the present but will plan ahead for changes in the future. A manager/leader will step up when they need to step up, be the front and center of the organization, and back up their staff at all times.

How does this change what I already do at the library? AND Do I need an office? What does one do in their office?
Your entire library life changes. I can’t believe that five years ago I was thinking all the time about how I could pull together a program and these days are now spent thinking about how I can pull together a policy. The day to day librarian who runs programs and talks to patrons is very different than the librarian who manages and leads. At my current job, I’ve tried to try to approach this with a balance. My office is right near the front door and it has windows all around it. Sometimes I feel like I am in a fishbowl but there are ways that I attempt to get around that (Curtains! Turn off the lights!).

I have no perfect answer with this one. Some days I feel so in tune with the administrative non public side of things, and other days I’m locked in and just wanna talk to people and check out books all day.  So what does that tell me? Do what I wanna do and go with the flow. I think this way of thinking is also something you should pass along to your staff if you’re managing and leading them. Of course, the day to day stuff has to be dealt with, but with everything there’s always a bit of wiggle room.

How does one lead?
Warts and all, I think you just do it. There is the good and that bad. Sometimes you screw up. I remember one time at my current job where I had to talk to an employee about something that ended up being a joke. I came down hard on this person when I really didn’t need to. I messed up and in the end I admitted that I did that. That moment taught me to give some thought to everything before reacting. In the times where I’ve had to have chats with people on my staff, I’ve learned to process everything in advance and give myself time to understand what needs to happen. I think as a result I’ve become more direct: this needs to happen, this is why it needs to happen, and so on and so forth. And the best thing is that there’s always room to grow. If you don’t like who you are and where you are headed, change it up. Growth happens through learning and all of this happens with patience.

So I’m gonna end this post with a cold hard truth: I don’t think you really ever fully know what you’re doing when it comes to anything let alone management and leadership. You’ve just gotta take it all in, process it, learn, and grow from it. I’ve found this approach to be the least stress and anxiety. With those two things minimized (or sometimes completely out of) my life, I feel like I’m the best Justin I can be. I am able to approach things with the best pair of glasses on.

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, Management

Three Things that Small/Rural Libraries Should Be Doing: 2017 Edition

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Over the past two years, I have learned many things about libraries but one thing has stood out to me above all of the rest: focus on your community and ditch the hype out there in the rest of the world. I’m just not into an ideas that there’s a one size fits all approach to libraries. Heck, there’s even part of me that thinks that public/academic/special libraries should be called something different since we’re all doing such vastly different things but all use the word “library”.

With those things in mind, I tread carefully with a post like this where I’m going lay out a few things that small(ish) and (slightly) rural libraries should be doing. My thoughts and ideas are not the magic bullet that will be the best fit for your library. These are the things that have worked for me in my position, and my hope is that through sharing them they may work for you as well or inspire you to think a different way and/or try something else for your library and your community.

Before we jump in, here are the stats for my library so you can get a vibe of the community we serve and the work that we do:

  • Service Population: 14,904
  • Visits in 2016: 60,143
  • Circulation in 2016: 66,529
  • Total Registered Users in 2016: 5,575

LISTEN

The most important thing a person can do in a small/rural public library is to listen to their community. When you listen to your community in any setting you will succeed but you will especially succeed in a small/rural public library. Why is that? It has everything to do with the tight knit community that usually surrounds a small town. You know the phrases “everyone knows everyone around these parts” and “everyone is related to everyone else in this town”? There’s a reason why people say these things…it is because they are VERY TRUE. In small towns, everyone talks to each other. Everyone listens to everything that everyone says and watches everything that everyone does. It is just the way of life in these types of towns and nothing is going to change it.

That’s why it is so important for you to listen as a small/rural public library director. Keeping your ear to the ground allows you to better understand the community you serve. By listening, you will be able to develop better programs and collections for the people that surround you. When you do this, there is nothing for your library to do but SUCCEED.

WEED YOUR COLLECTION & DO NOT HOARD 

Small/Rural libraries are often the most guilty of being intense library hoarders. There’s a deadly combination in every small/rural library where budgets are strapped mixed with every librarian’s “we may be able to use that someday” attitude. The end result of this is usually shelves overflowing with materials, out of date materials staying much longer than needed, and a basement/attic/weird room to the side full of things that, let’s face it, you are never going to use because you are never going to find them again.

Taking care of your library means getting rid of things. Yes, I understand how hard it may be to get rid of that book that you enjoyed reading 10 years ago that you remember buying. I’ve been through this myself. But having a messy collection and a messy storage space does nothing but drive patrons away by making it hard to find what they really want and it frustrates staff.

When you downsize everything, you’re also able to fill your library with the stuff that you actually need. One of the most brilliant things that I think the Chattanooga Public Library did during my time there (and it continues to this day!) is to have a collection policy that emphasized patron requests. When you get the stuff that people want, your circulation and visits will increase. When you have less clutter to wade through on a daily basis, your staff will be free from some stress. I truly believe that these things lead to a better public library which in turn lead to a better community.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BUILDING

Your building is your lifeline to the community. It is where you will do most if not all of your library related business. I’m not saying that small/rural libraries don’t do outreach…they do…but for some libraries there just isn’t the staffing to get outside of the building.

Taking care of your space does two things: it makes people feel welcome when they come to the library and it also instills this feeling that the library is a special place. A well kept library will be remembered by anyone that visits it. A few months ago I had the chance to visit the Stone Memorial Library in Conneautville, PA. This library had a great location: a wonderful Main Street location, big windows, and a recently renovated space that used to be a store front. The library was small and very welcoming. It felt like the staff and the community loved the space. The other thing that it does is that it gives back to your community. Small towns are not doing so well as more people flock to urban/suburban areas. To keep these towns alive, we need to take care of them. We need to invest in the things that make these areas special. A library is a good place to start. Libraries can give back to the town by cleaning up and using a building instead of leaving that space unoccupied. When this happens, you drive through a small town and instead of seeing abandoned storefronts you see life. You see a community that cares about its surroundings. The public library does so much more than just loan out books: it can breathe life into an entire community.

Libraries, Library Director, Management

Workplace Vibes

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“THIS IS HOW WORK LOOKS LIKE” says “them”

Jane is unhappy because in the summer Bob likes to use his vacation days to take Fridays off and have a long weekend. Bob is upset that Sally gets 4 less public service hours than him, even though Sally has a very specific job as the (INSERT ANY JOB TITLE) whereas Bob is a library assistant/aide whose primary duty is to serve the public. Sally doesn’t really say much to the staff when everyone is together chatting about things, but get her one on one and boy howdy she’ll tell you everything she hates about everyone. And Jim? He’ll only talk to Sally about anything that comes up even though Sally may not be the person he needs to go to. And finally….there’s Barbara. When she’s upset or overworked, she’ll immediately begin nitpicking everything that Jane and Bob do at work.

Does this completely made up story (which, like all good stories has to be somewhat inspired by real life events) sound familiar to you? It should sound familiar to you, as it is the story of every public library that has ever existed in the modern age.

In a perfect world, the public library workplace would be one that is completely in harmony and peace. After all, here’s what your job boils down to: you help people, you let them borrow things that they need, and you create and run cool events. You’re doing work that at all times gives something amazing to your community. While all of this still happens, the public library workplace is usually not full of harmony and peace. And you know what? After now being part of seven different public library workplaces I’m not sure if they’ll ever be. Some have been more harmonious than others. Yet at the core there’s always a little bit of discontent, a touch of negativity, and some jealousy thrown in there. I guess you could say it keeps things interesting.

After being a Library Director for the past two years, I’ve become a lot more in tune with what I’ll call “workplace vibes”. I see them happening, I notice the fallout from them, and I spend my days swathed in the layers of emotions they put out into the world. As the person that steers the ship of this library, I feel like a lot of those vibes are something I need to watch and control. I do my best to make sure the vibes remain positive, but in the end I’m just one person. I have my own life and my own work, and sometimes I just can’t be the only person attempting to make those vibes positive. It takes every staff member to keep the workplace vibes on the up and up. When we do this, we work together and we keep this thing in check.

Will any of us ever achieve a workplace hat is completely in harmony and peace? I don’t think it’s possible. For some reason human beings always need a little bit of unhappiness in their lives. In the past, I put myself through a lot of negative emotions feeling that I wasn’t doing my job because workplace vibes were in the pits. It was wrong of me to do that, as even though I’m the director it is not fully up to me to fix everything. We have to work together and recognize that each of us are at different periods in our journey. If someone is over there on one end, swimming in a sea of depression, we have to recognize that and do our part to not only take care of them but to know that where they may have once stepped up to the plate they may not be able to do that at the time.

Our work lives and our workplace vibes are never consistent. They are always shifting, floating from the positive end to the negative end. Recognizing where we are in that moment within ourselves is key. Through an analysis of our self, we can learn many things that help move us forward. Let’s all think about that right now.

Benson Memorial Library, Chattanooga Public Library, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

“You are loved and respected. Your work is well done. Your choices are good.”

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The title of this post comes from something my friend Peggy said to me recently. I needed to hear this. Sometimes we need to hear that we’re doing something good and positive in the world. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the work that we’re doing and the work that we’ve done in the past.

With that in mind, I’ve been updating my work resume recently. In late 2016 I deconstructed my resume. What I started to see on it was way too much bragging and buzzwords that equated to nothing. I looked at resumes of others, mostly people I have worked with, and in their resumes too I saw the same amounts of bragging and buzzwords. The need to embellish a resume seemed to have taken over the world and I did not want to have any part in it. So, I “trimmed the fat” as they say. I cut out the stuff that I did not think needed to be shared. Sure, I was given an award of some sorts by a prominent library publication 4 years ago, but did that matter? I told myself that it didn’t and I cut it out. What mattered was now and the work that I could do in my day to day life. One of the most inspiring people in the world (and a person on my “if I had friends this is someone I’d like to be friends with” list) Josh Homme said this recently:

“Now is all you’ll ever get, and there’s no reason for you to wait. If you wait to do something, you’re probably making a mistake.” -Josh Homme

from https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/josh-homme-on-queens-of-the-stone-ages-new-villains-lp-w490156

This idea that now is all we ever have rang deep inside of me and it informed my decisions and my actions over the past year.

In recent weeks, I’ve been going back to this idea and I’ve recognized that I need to balance it out. Balance is the key to any healthy life and if you’ve read my posts over the past few months you can probably tell that I’ve been way off balance. With that in mind and with the words of encouragement from some friends, I’ve decided to get that balance now. I started updating my resume once again, adding back in some of the things that I’ve done in the past while trying to remain mindful of how I present myself. I still want to steer clear of the bragging and buzzwords. I think I’m getting there. In the meantime, you can find my updated resume here. In order to keep doing great work in libraries, I have to be proud of the work that I’ve done in the past. I have to remember that I have had a positive impact on the the people that I have met in libraries. I have to keep moving ahead in a positive way.

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, Management, Tales From The Library Trenches

Tales From the Library Trenches, Part 3: Choose Your Own Adventure

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Part 3! Enjoy! 

Head on over to Information Today and check out part three of my series titled Tales From The Library Trenches. In this installment, I got a chance to chat with my former boss at the Cape May County Library (NJ) and still big time library inspiration Deb Poillon about project management, planning, and more. Deb rules. She’s one of my library inspirations, as her approach is so community and staff focused and she does it in such as way that not only gets things done but gets things done well.

I’ve created this category (click!) to keep all of the writings in this series together. Next month I will be back to share my fourth and final part. Stay tuned!